Dec. 11, 1840. A man who had failed to fulfill an engagement, and grossly disappointed me, came to me to-night with a countenance radiant with repentance, and so behaved that it seemed as if I was the defaulter and could not be satisfied till he would let me stand in that light. How long a course of strict integrity might have come short of such confidence and good will I The crack of his whip was before attractive enough, but such conciliatory words from that shaggy coat and coarse comforter I had not expected. I saw the meaning which lurked far behind eye, all the better for the dark, as we see some faint stars better when we do not look directly at them with the full light of the eye. A true contrition, when witnessed, will humble integrity itself.
Dec. 11, 1853. To Heywood's Pond and up brook. Almost a complete Indian-summer day, clear and warm. I am without greatcoat. Ch. says he saw larks yesterday, a painted tortoise the day before, under ice at White Pond, and a ground robin (?) last week. He conjectures, I am told, that the landscape looks fairer when we turn our heads upside down, because we behold it with nerves of the eye unused before. Perhaps this reason is worth more for suggestion than explanation. It occurs to me that the reflection of objects in still water is in a similar manner fairer than the substance, and yet we do not employ unused nerves to behold it. Is it not that we let much more light into our eyes (which in the usual position are shaded by the brows), in the first case, by turning them more to the sky, and in the case of the reflections, by having the sky placed under our feet? that is, in both cases we see terrestrial objects, with the sky or heavens for a background or field; accordingly they are not dark or terrene, but lit and elysian.
Dec. 11, 1854. p. m. To Bare Hill. We have now those early, still, clear winter sunsets over the snow. It is but mid-afternoon when I see the sun setting far through the woods, and there is that peculiar, clear, vitreous, greenish sky in the west, as it were, a molten gem. The day is short. It seems to be composed of two twilights merely. The morning and the evening twilight make the whole day. You must make haste to do the work of the day before it is dark. I hear rarely a bird except the chickadee, or perchance a jay or a crow. A gray rabbit scuds away over the crust in the swamp on the edge of the Great Meadows beyond Peters's. A partridge goes off, and coming up, I see where she struck the snow with her wings, making five or six, as it were, finger-marks.
Dec. 11, 1855. p. m. To Holden Swamp, Conantum. For the first time I wear gloves, but I have not walked early this season. I see no birds, but hear, I think, one or two tree sparrows. No snow, scarcely any ice to be detected; it is only aggravated November. I thread the tangle of the spruce swamp, admiring the leaflets of the swamp pyrus which had put forth again, now frost-bitten, the great yellow buds of the swamp pink, the round red buds of the high blueberry, and the firm sharp red ones of the panicled andromeda. Slowly I worm my way amid the snarl, the thicket of black alder, blueberry, etc., see the forms, apparently of rabbits, at the foot of maples, and cat-birds' nests now exposed in the leafless thicket. Standing there, though in this bare November landscape, I am reminded of the incredible phenomenon of small birds in winter, that erelong, amid the cold, powdery snow, as it were a fruit of the season, will come twittering a flock of delicate, crimson-tinged birds, lesser red-polls, to sport and feed on the seeds and buds just ripe for them on the sunny side of a wood, shaking down the powdery snow there in their cheerful social feeding, as if it were high midsummer to them. These crimson aerial creatures have wings which would bear them quickly to the regions of summer, but here is all the summer they want. What a rich contrast! tropical colors, crimson breasts, on cold white snow! Such etherealness, such delicacy in their forms, such ripeness in their colors, in this stern and barren season! It is as surprising as if you were to find a brilliant crimson flower which flourished amid snow. They greet the hunter and the chopper in their furs. Their maker gave them the last touch, and launched them forth the day of the Great Snow. He made this bitter imprisoning cold, before which man quails, but he made at the same time these warm and glowing creatures to twitter and be at home in it. He said not only, let there be linnets in winter, but linnets of rich plumage and pleasing twitter, bearing summer in their natures. The snow will be three feet deep, the ice will be two feet thick, and last night, perchance, the mercury sank to thirty degrees below zero. All the fountains of nature seem to be sealed up. The traveler is frozen on his way, but under the edge of yonder birch wood will be a little flock of crimson-breasted lesser red-polls, feeding on the seeds of the birch, as if a flower were created to be now in bloom, a peach to be now first fully ripe on its stem. I am struck by the perfect confidence and success of Nature. There is no question about the existence of these delicate creatures, their adaptedness to their circumstances. There is added superfluous painting and adornment, a crystalline, jewel-like health and soundness, like the colors reflected from ice-crystals. When some rare northern bird, like the pine grossbeak, is seen thus far south, in the winter, he does not suggest poverty, but dazzles us with his beauty. There is in them a warmth that is akin to the warmth that melts the icicle. Here is no imperfection suggested. The winter with its snow and ice is not an evil to be corrected. It is as it was designed and made to be, for the artist has had leisure to add beauty to use. I had a vision thus prospectively, as I stood in the swamp, of these birds, my acquaintances, angels from the north. I saw this familiar, too familiar fact, at a different angle, and I was charmed and haunted by it. I had seen into paradisaic regions with their air and sky, and I was no longer wholly or merely a denizen of this vulgar earth. Yet I had hardly a foothold there. It is only necessary to behold thus the least fact or phenomenon, however familiar, from a point a hair's breadth aside from our habitual path or routine, to be overcome, enchanted by its beauty and significance. Only what we have touched and worn is trivial, our scurf, repetition, tradition, conformity. To perceive freshly, with fresh senses, is to be inspired. Great winter itself looked like a precious gem reflecting rainbow colors from one angle. My body is all sentient. As I go here or there, I am tickled by this or that I come in contact with, as if I touched the wires of a battery. I can generally recall, have fresh in my mind, several scratches last received. These I continually recall to mind, reimpress and harp upon. The age of miracles is each moment thus returned; now it is wild apples, now river reflections, now a flock of lesser red-polls. In winter, too, resides immortal youth and perennial summer. Its head is not silvered, its cheek is not blanched, but has a ruby tinge in it. If any part of nature excites our pity, it is for ourselves we grieve, for there is eternal health and beauty. We get only transient and partial glimpses of the beauty of the world. Standing at the right angle, we are dazzled by the colors of the rainbow in colorless ice. From the right point of view, every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow. Beauty and music are not mere traits and exceptions; they are the rule and character. It is the exception that we see and hear. Then I try to discover what it was in the vision that charmed and translated me. What if we could daguerreotype our thoughts and feelings!—for I am surprised and enchanted often by some quality which I cannot detect. I have seen an attribute of another world and condition of things. It is a wonderful fact that I should be affected, and thus deeply and powerfully, more than by aught else in all my experience, that this fruit should be borne in me, sprung from a seed finer than the spores of fungi floated from other atmospheres! finer than the dust caught in the sails of vessels a thousand miles from land! Here the invisible seeds settle, and spring, and bear flowers and fruits of immortal beauty.
Dec. 11, 1856. Minott tells me that his and his sister's wood-lot contains about ten acres, and has, with a very slight exception at one time, supplied all their fuel for thirty years, and he thinks would constantly continue to do so. They keep one fire all the time, and two some of the time, and burn about eight cords in a year. He knows his wood-lot, and what grows in it, as well as an ordinary farmer does his cornfield, for he has cut his own wood till within two or three years, knows the history of every stump on it, and the age of every sapling, knows how many beech-trees and black birches there are, as another knows his pear or cherry trees. It is more economical as well as more poetical to have a wood-lot, and cut and get your own wood from year to year than to buy it at your own door. Minott may say to his trees, "Submit to my axe; I cut your father on this very spot." How many sweet passages there must have been in his life there, chopping all alone in the short winter days! How many rabbits, partridges, foxes he saw! A rill runs through the lot where he quenched his thirst, and several times he has laid it bare. At last rheumatism has made him a prisoner, and he is compelled to let a stranger, a vandal it may be, go into his lot with an axe. It is fit that he should be buried there.
Dec. 12, 1837. There are times when thought elbows her way through the underwood of words to the clear blue beyond:—
"O'er bog or steep, though strait, rough, dense, or rare, With head, hands, wings, or feet, pursues her way, And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies."
But let her don her cumbersome working-day garment, and each sparkling dewdrop will seem a "Slough of Despond."
When we speak of a peculiarity in a man or a nation, we think sometimes to describe a mere mathematical point. But in fact it pervades the whole, as a drop of wine in a glass of water tinges the whole glass. Some parts may be further removed than others from the centre, but not a particle so remote as not to be shined on or shaded by it.
No part of man's nature is formed with a useless or sinister intent. In no respect can he be wholly bad, but the worst passions have their root in the best. So a spine is proved to be only an abortive branch "which, notwithstanding, even as a spine, bears leaves, and in Euphorbia heptagona, sometimes flowers and fruit."
Dec. 12, 1840. Society seems very natural and easy. Can I not walk among men as simply as in the woods? I am greeted everywhere with mild looks and words, and it seems as if the eaves were running, and I heard the sough of melting snow all around me.
The young pines springing up in the cornfields from year to year are to me a much more refreshing fact than the most abundant harvests. My last stronghold is the forest.
Dec. 12, 1851. In regard to my friends, I feel that I know and have communion with a finer and subtler part of themselves which does not put me off when they put me off, which is not cold to me when they are cold, not till I am cold. I hold by a deeper and stronger tie than absence can sunder.
Ah, dear nature, the mere remembrance, after a short forgetfulness, of the pine woods! I come to it as a hungry man to a crust of bread.
I have been surveying for twenty or thirty days, living coarsely, even as respects my diet (for I find that will always alter to suit my employment), indeed leading a quite trivial life, and to-night, for the first time, made a fire in my chamber and endeavored to return to myself. I wished to ally myself to the powers that rule the universe. I wished to dive into some deep stream of thoughtful and devoted life which meanders through retired and fertile meadows far from towns. I wished to do again, or for once, things quite congenial to my highest, inmost, and most sacred nature, to lurk in crystalline thought like the trout under verdurous banks where stray mankind should only see my bubble come to the surface. I wished to live, ah, as far away as a man can think. I wished for leisure and quiet to let my life flow in its proper channels, with its proper currents, when I might not waste the days, might establish daily prayer and thanksgiving in my family, might do my own work, and not the work of Concord and Carlisle, which would yield me better than money. I bethought myself, while my fire was kindling, to open one of Emerson's books, which it happens that I rarely look at, to try what a chance sentence out of that could do for me, thinking at the same time of a conversation I had with him the other night, I finding fault with him for the stress he had laid on some of Margaret Fuller's whims and superstitions, but he declaring gravely that she was one of those persons whose experience warranted her attaching importance to such things as the Sortes Virgilianæ, for instance, of which her numerous friends could give remarkable accounts. At any rate, I saw that he was disposed to regard such things more seriously than I. The first sentence which I opened upon in his book was this, "If, with a high trust, he can thus submit himself, he will find that ample returns are poured into his bosom, out of what seemed hours of obstruction and loss. Let him not grieve too much on account of unfit associates," etc.; "in a society of perfect sympathy, no word, no act, no record would be. He will learn that it is not much matter what he reads, what he does. Be a scholar, and he shall have the scholar's part of everything," etc. Most of this corresponded well enough with my mood, and this would be as good an instance of the Sortes Virgilianæ as most, to quote. But what makes this coincidence very little, if at all, remarkable to me, is the fact of the obviousness of the moral, so that I had perhaps thought the same thing myself twenty times during the day, and yet had not been contented with that account of it, leaving me thus to be amused by the coincidence, rather than impressed as by an intimation out of the deeps.
How much forbearance, aye, sacrifice and loss, goes to every accomplishment! I am thinking by what long discipline and at what cost, a man learns to speak simply at last.
Nothing is so sure to make itself known as the truth, for what else waits to be known.
Dec. 12, 1852. Colder at last. Saw a violet on the C. Miles road where the bank had been burned in the fall. Beomyces rosea, also. Tansy still fresh yellow, by the lower bridge. From Cliffs, I see snow on the mountains. Last night's rain was then snow there. They now have a parti-colored look, like the skin of a pard, as if they were spread with a saddle-cloth for Boreas to ride. I hear of a cultivated rose blossoming in a garden in Cambridge within a day or two. The buds of the aspen are large, and show wool in the fall.
Dec. 12, 1856. Wonderful, wonderful is our life, and that of our companions! That there should be such a thing as a brute animal, not human! that it should attain to a sort of society with our race! Think of cats, for instance; they are neither Chinese nor Tartars, they neither go to school, nor read the Testament. Yet how near they come to doing so, how much they are like us who do so. At length without having solved any of these problems, we fatten and kill and eat some of our cousins!
Where is the great natural historian? Is he a butcher? or the patron of butchers? As well look for a great anthropologist among cannibals or New Zealanders.
Dec. 12, 1858. Up river on ice to Fair Haven Hill. I see an immense flock of snow buntings, I think the largest I ever saw. There must be a thousand or two, at least. There is but three inches at most of crusted and dry frozen snow, and they are running amid the weeds that rise above it. They are very restless, and continually changing their ground. They will suddenly rise again a few seconds after they have alighted, as if alarmed, but after a short wheel, settle close by. As they fly from you in some positions, you see only or chiefly the black part of their bodies, and then as they wheel, the white comes into view, contrasted prettily with the former, and in all together at the same time. Seen flying higher against a cloudy sky, they look like snowflakes. When they rise all together, their note is like the rattling of nuts in a bag, as if a whole bin-full were rolled from side to side. They also utter from time to time, that is, individuals do, a clear rippling note, perhaps an alarm or call. It is remarkable that their note, above described, should resemble the lesser red-polls'. Away goes the great wheeling, rambling flock, rolling through the air, and you cannot easily tell where they will settle. Suddenly the pioneers, or a part not foremost, will change their course, when in full career, and, when at length they know it, the rushing flock on the other side will be fetched about, as it were, with an undulating jerk, as in the boys' game of snap-the-whip, and those that occupy the place of the snapper are gradually off after their leaders on the new track. Like a snowstorm, they come rushing down from the north. They are unusually abundant now. I should like to know where all these snowbirds will roost to-night, for they will probably roost together. What havoc an owl might make among them! So far as I observe, they confine themselves to the uplands, not alighting in the meadows. But Melvin tells me he saw a thousand feeding a long time in the Great Meadows, he thinks on the seeds of the wool grass, about the same time I saw those above described.
Dec. 13, 1851. Surveying to-day. We had one hour of most Indian-summer weather in the middle of the day. I felt the influence of the sun. It softened my stoniness a little. The pines looked like old friends again. Cutting a path through swamp where was much brittle dogwood, etc., I wanted to know the name of every bush. This varied employment to which my necessities compel me serves instead of foreign travel and the lapse of time. If it makes me forget some things which I ought to remember, it no doubt makes me forget many things which I ought to forget. By stepping aside from my chosen path so often, I see myself better, and am enabled to criticise myself better. It seems an age since I took walks and wrote in my journal, and when shall I revisit the glimpses of the moon? To be able to see ourselves, not merely as others see us, but as we are, that service a variety of absorbing employments does us.
I would not be rude to the fine intimations of the gods for fear of incurring the reproach of superstition.
Saw Perez Blood in his frock,—a stuttering, sure, unpretending man, who does not speak without thinking, does not guess. When I reflected how different he was from his neighbors, I saw that it was not so much outwardly, but that I saw an inner form. We do indeed see through and through each other, through the veil of the body, and see the real form and character, in spite of the garment. Any coarseness or tenderness is seen and felt under whatever garb. How nakedly men appear to us, for the spiritual assists the natural eye.
Dec. 13, 1852. Walk early through the woods to Lincoln to survey. Winter weather may be said to have begun yesterday. Why have I ever omitted early rising and a morning walk? As we walked over the Cedar Hill, Mr. Weston asked me if I had ever noticed how the frost formed about a particular weed in the grass, and no other. It was a clear cold morning. We stooped to examine, and I observed about the base of the cistus the frost formed into little flattened trumpets or bells, an inch or more long, with the mouths down about the base of the stem. They were very conspicuous, dotting the grass white. But the most remarkable thing about it was that though there were plenty of other dead weeds and grasses about, no other species exhibited this phenomenon. I think it can hardly be because of the form of its top, and that therefore the moisture is collected and condensed, and flows down its stem. It may have something to do with the life of the root, which I noticed was putting forth shoots beneath. Perhaps the growth generates heat and so steam.
Dec. 13, 1855. Sanborn tells me that he was waked up a few nights ago in Boston about midnight by the sound of a flock of geese passing over the city, probably about the same night I heard them here. They go honking over cities where the arts flourish, waking the inhabitants, over state-houses and capitols, where legislatures sit, over harbors where fleets lie at anchor,—mistaking the city, perhaps, for a swamp or the edge of a lake, about settling in it, not suspecting that it is preoccupied by greater geese than themselves.
Dec. 13, 1857. In sickness and barrenness, it is encouraging to believe that our life is dammed, and is coming to a head, so that there seems to be no loss, for what is lost in time is gained in power. All at once, unaccountably, as we are walking in the woods, or sitting in our chamber, after a worthless fortnight, we cease to feel mean and barren.
Dec. 13, 1859. My first true winter walk is perhaps that which I take on the river, or where I cannot go in the summer. It is the walk peculiar to winter, and now first I take it. I see that the fox has already taken the same walk before me, just along the edge of the button-bushes where not even he can go in the summer. We both turn our steps hither at the same time.
Now at 2.30 p. m., the melon-rind arrangement of the clouds, really parallel columns of fine mackerel sky reaching quite across the heavens from west to east, with clear intervals of blue sky; and a fine-grained vapor like spun glass extending in the same direction beneath the former. In half an hour, all the mackerel sky is gone.
What an ever-changing scene is the sky, its drifting cirrus and stratus! The spectators are not requested to take a recess of fifteen minutes while the scene changes, but, walking commonly with our faces to the earth, our thoughts revert to other objects, and as often as we look up, the scene has changed. Now I see it is a column of white vapor reaching quite across the sky from west to east, with locks of fine hair or tow that is carded, combed out on each side, surprising touches here and there which show a peculiar state of the atmosphere. No doubt the best weather signs are in these forms which the vapor takes. When I next look up the locks of hair are perfect fir-trees, with their recurved branches. These trees extend at right angles from the side of the main column. This appearance is changed all over the sky in one minute.
Again it is pieces of asbestos, or the vapor takes the curved form of the surf or breakers, and again, of flames.
But how long can a man be in a mood to watch the heavens? That melon-rind arrangement, so very common, is perhaps a confirmation of Wise the balloonist's statement that at a certain height there is a current of air moving from west to east. Hence we so commonly see the clouds arranged in parallel divisions in that direction. What a spectacle the subtle vapors that have their habitation in the sky present these winter days! You have not only unvarying forms of a given type of cloud, but various types at different heights or hours. It is a scene, for variety, for beauty and grandeur, out of all proportion to the attention it gets. Who watched the forms of the clouds over this part of the earth a thousand years ago? who watches them to-day?
When I reach the causeway at the Cut, returning, the sun has just set, a perfect winter sunset, so fair and pure, with its golden and purple isles, I think the summer rarely equals it. There are real damask-colored isles or continents north of the sun's place, and further off northeast they pass into bluish purple. Hayden's house, one which I see there, seems the abode of the blessed. The eastern horizon also is purple. But that part of the parallel cloud columns overhead is now invisible. At length, the purple travels westward, as the sunk sinks lower below the horizon, the clouds overhead are brought out, and so the purple glow glides down the western sky.
Dec. 14, 1840. How may a man most cleanly and gracefully depart out of nature? At present his birth and death are offensive and unclean things. Disease kills him and his carcass smells to heaven. It offends the bodily sense only so much as his life offended the moral sense. It is the odor of sin. His carcass invites sun and moisture, and makes haste to burst forth into new and disgusting forms of life with which it already teemed. It was no better than carrion before, but just animated enough to keep off the crows. The birds of prey which hover in the rear of an army are an intolerable satire on mankind, and may well make the soldier shudder. The mosquito sings our dirge, he is Charon come to ferry us over the Styx. He preaches a biting homily to us. He says, put away beef and pork, small beer and ale, and my trump shall die away, and be no more heard. The intemperate cannot go nigh to any wood or marsh, but he hears his requiem sung. Man lays down his body in the field, and thinks from it, as a stepping-stone, to vault at once into heaven, as if he could establish a better claim, when he had left such a witness behind him on the plain. Our true epitaphs are those which the sun and wind write upon the atmosphere around our graves so conclusively that the traveler does not draw near to read the lie on our tombstones. Shall we not be judged rather by what we leave behind us, than by what we bring into the world? The guest is known by his leavings. When we have become intolerable to ourselves, shall we be tolerable to heaven? Will our spirits ascend pure and fragrant from our tainted carcasses? May we not suffer our impurities gradually to evaporate in sun and wind with the superfluous juices of the body, and so wither and dry up, at last, like a tree in the woods, which possesses a sort of embalmed life after death, and is as clean as the sapling or fresh buds of spring? Let us die by dry rot at least. The dead tree still stands erect without shame or offense amidst its green brethren, the most picturesque object in the wood. The painter puts it into the foreground of his picture, for in its death it is still remembered. When Nature finds man returned on her hands, he is not simply the pure elements she has contributed to his growth, but with her floods she must wash away, and with her fires burn up the filth that has accumulated, before she can receive her own again. He poisons her gales, and is a curse to the land that gave him birth. She is obliged to employ her scavengers in self-defense to abate the nuisance. May not man cast his shell with as little offense as the mussel, and it, perchance, be a precious relic to be kept in the cabinets of the curious? May we not amuse ourselves with it, as when we count the layers of a shell, and apply it to our ear, to hear the history of its inhabitant in the swells of the sea, the pulsation of the life which once passed therein still faintly echoed? We confess that it was well done in Nature thus to let out her particles of lime to the mussel and coral, to receive them back again with such interest.
The ancients were more tidy than we, who subjected the body to the purification of fire before they returned it upon nature, for fire is the true washer; water only displaces the impurity. Fire is thorough, water is superficial.
Dec. 14, 1851. As for the weather, all seasons are pretty much alike to one who is actively at work in the woods. I should say that there were two or three remarkably warm days, and as many cold ones in the course of the year, but the rest are all alike in respect to temperature. This is my answer to my acquaintances, who ask if I have not found it very cold being out all day.
I hear the small woodpecker whistle as he flies toward the leafless wood on Fair Haven, doomed to be out this winter. The chickadees remind me of Hudson's Bay for some reason. I look on them as natives of a more northern latitude.
The now dry and empty, but clean-washed cups of the blue curls spot the half snow-covered grain-fields. Where lately was a delicate blue flower, now all the winter are held up these dry chalices. What mementos to stand above the snow!
Why not live out more yet, and have my friends and relatives altogether in nature? only my acquaintances among the villagers? That way diverges from this I follow, not at a sharp, but a very wide angle. Ah, nature is serene and immortal. Am I not one of the Zincali?
There are certain places where the ice will always be open, where, perchance, warmer springs come in. There are such places in every character, genial and open in the coldest seasons.
I come from contact with certain acquaintances, whom even I am disposed to look toward as possible friends. It oftenest happens that I come from them wounded. Only they can wound me seriously, and that perhaps without their knowing it.
Dec. 14, 1852. Ah, who can tell the serenity and clarity of a New England winter sunset? This could not be till the cold and the snow came. What isles those western clouds, in what a sea!
Dec. 14, 1854. p. m. With C. up north bank of Assabet to Bridge. The river is open almost its whole length. It is a beautifully smooth mirror with an icy frame. It is well to improve such a time to walk by it. This strip of water of irregular width over the channel between broad fields of ice looks like a polished silver mirror, or like another surface of polished ice, and often is distinguished from the surrounding ice only by its reflections. I have rarely seen any reflections (of weeds, willows, and elms, and the houses of the village) so distinct, the stems so black and distinct, for they contrast not with a green meadow, but clear white ice, to say nothing of the silvery surface of the water. Your eye slides first over a plane surface of smooth ice of one color, to a watery surface of silvery smoothness, like a gem set in ice, and reflecting the weeds, trees, houses, and clouds with singular beauty. The reflections are particularly simple and distinct. These twigs are not referred to and confounded with a broad green meadow from which they spring, as in summer, but instead of that broad green ground absorbing the light, is the abrupt white field of ice.
Dec. 15, 1837. Jack Frost. As further confirmation of the fact that vegetation is a kind of crystallization, I observe that upon the edge of the melting frost on the windows, Jack is playing singular freaks, now bundling together his needle-shaped leaves so as to resemble fields waving with grain, or shocks of wheat rising here and there from the stubble. On one side, the vegetation of the torrid zone is presented, high-towering palms, and wide-spread banyans, such as we see in pictures of oriental scenery. On the other, are arctic pines, stiff-frozen, with branches downcast, like the arms of tender men in frosty weather. In some instances, the panes are covered with little feathery flocks where the particles radiate from a common centre, the number of radii varying from three to seven or eight. The crystalline particles are partial to the creases and flaws in the glass, and when these extend from sash to sash, form complete hedgerows, or miniature watercourses, where dense masses of crystal foliage "high over arched embower."
Dec. 15, 1838. Silence is ever less strange than noise, lurking amid the boughs of the hemlock or the pine, just in proportion as we find ourselves there. The nuthatch tapping the upright trunks by our side is only a partial spokesman for the solemn stillness.
Silence is the communion of a conscious soul with itself. If the soul attend for a moment to its own infinity, then and there is silence. She is audible to all men, at all times, in all places. If we will, we may always hearken to her admonitions.
Dec. 15, 1840. When most at one with nature I feel supported and propped on all sides by a myriad influences, as trees in the plain or on the hillside are equally perpendicular. The most upright man is he that most entirely reclines (the prone recline but partially); by his entire reliance he is most erect. Men of little faith stand only by their feet, or recline on the ground, having lost their reliance on the soul. Nature is right, but man is straight. She erects no beams, she slants no rafters, and yet she builds stronger and truer than he. Everywhere she preaches not abstract, but practical truth. She is no beauty at her toilet, but her cheek is flushed with exercise.
Dec. 15, 1856. 3 p. m. To Walden. I observe B——'s boat left out at the pond, as last winter. When I see that a man neglects his boat thus, I do not wonder that he fails in his business. It is not only shiftlessness or unthrift, but a sort of filthiness to let things go to wrack and ruin thus.
I still recall that characteristic winter evening of December 9th. The cold, dry, and wholesome diet my mind and senses necessarily fed on,—oak leaves, bleached and withered weeds that rose above the snow, the now dark green of the pines, and perchance the faint metallic chip of a single tree sparrow; the hushed stillness of the wood at sundown, aye, all the winter day, the short boreal twilight, the smooth serenity and the reflections of the pond, still alone free from ice; the melodious hooting of the owl, heard at the same time with the yet more distant whistle of a locomotive, more aboriginal, and perchance more enduring here than that, heard above all the voices of the wise men of Concord, as if they were not (how little he is Anglicized!), the last strokes of the woodchopper, who presently bends his steps homeward; the gilded bar of cloud across the apparent outlet of the pond, conducting my thoughts into the eternal west, the deepening horizon glow, and the hasty walk homeward to enjoy the long winter evening. The hooting of the owl; that is a sound which my red predecessors heard here more than a thousand years ago. It rings far and wide, occupying the space rightfully,—grand, primeval, aboriginal sound. There is no whisper in it of the Bulkeleys, the Flints, the Hosmers, who recently squatted here, nor of the first parish, nor of Concord Fight, nor of the last town-meeting.
Dec. 15, 1859. Philosophy is a Greek word, by good rights, and it stands almost for a Greek thing, yet some rumor of it has reached the commonest mind. M. Miles, who came to collect his wood-bill to-day, said, when I objected to the small size of his wood, that it was necessary to split wood fine in order to cure it well; that he has found that more than four inches in diameter would not dry, and, moreover, a good deal depended on the manner in which it was corded up in the woods. He piled his high and tight. If this were not well done, the stakes would spread and the wood lie loosely, and so the rain and snow find their way into it, and he added, "I have handled a good deal of wood, and I think that I understand the philosophy of it."